Students, staff trained in suicide prevention

by Priya Ramaiah | 9/28/14 7:03pm

“How have you been feeling lately?” reads a question in green italicized font. “Feeling empty, hopeless,” reads one answer choice, indicating depression. “Troubled by traumatic events,” reads another, indicating post-traumatic stress.

The question is the entry point into an anonymous online mental health screening, part of a new suicide prevention website launched by Dartmouth’s counseling center last week that provides crisis intervention resources and wellness tips. The website also describes the recently implemented Campus Connect program, which trains students and campus personnel to recognize suicide warning signs in others.

Arlene Velez-Galan, a staff counselor who spearheaded Campus Connect at the College, said plans began 10 months ago. Since then, more than 300 students, faculty and staff have been trained.

First developed at Syracuse University and since implemented on about 75 campuses, Campus Connect targets “gatekeepers,” or community members who have direct contact with students.

In Dartmouth’s case, Velez-Galan said, undergraduate advisors are often first to notice students in crisis, adding that at-risk students tend to reach out to peers before professionals or adults.

The new suicide prevention program was incorporated into UGA training in the winter and this fall. So far, about 200 UGAs have been trained, along with members of student mental health group Active Minds and the athletic training staff.

Five UGAs interviewed said they found the suicide prevention training beneficial.

Liane Makatura ’17, Stylianos Tegas ’17 and Younji Lee ’17 emphasized that they had not previously realized that it was effective, not harmful, to ask a person directly if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

As a result of the training, Lee said she looks more actively for warning signs in her freshman residents. These signs can include changes in personality, poor class attendance, increased isolation and impulsivity, according to the counseling and human development website.

More than 20 staff members have learned how to conduct Campus Connect trainings, Velez-Galan said, adding that interested student groups and community members may undergo training upon request.

Active Minds co-president Jake Donehey ’17, who participated in the training with his group last year, wrote in an email that he found the program, particularly the group exercises, effective and helpful in looking for distress in peers.

Training sessions for faculty members and other groups on campus are scheduled throughout the fall.

Both the new website and the Campus Connect training fall under the banner of Dartmouth Cares, an initiative launched by former Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson in spring 2013 to promote mental health awareness, crisis intervention and suicide prevention on campus.

Assistant director of student health promotion and wellness Amanda Childress said Dartmouth Cares allows students to access the help they need.

“We’re streamlining the resources,” Childress said. “The idea behind this is to ensure that there isn’t a student falling through the cracks.”

The health promotion and wellness office focuses on early prevention, Childress said, citing the Thriving pilot program, which looks at six dimensions of wellness — mental, intellectual, spiritual, social, physical and environmental — as one example of holistic self-care.

Assistant Dean of the College Liz Agosto said that administrators sometimes encounter people with the misconception that Dartmouth is unaffected by mental health issues.

“We know that there are students struggling with mental health issues and real concerns,” Agosto said. “It’s our responsibility as a campus to make sure that we are proactively setting up structures that will allow people to intervene and get people help.”

Stephanie Pignatiello ’12 committed suicide in an off-campus apartment in summer 2012.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, about 18 percent of undergraduates have seriously considered attempting suicide in their lifetimes.

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